Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
Sweet contentment is a horse dozing in the summer field, completely sated by grass and clover, tail switching and skin rippling automatically to discourage flies.
I too wish at times for that stillness of mind and body, allowing myself to simply “be” without concern about yesterday’s travails, or what duties await me tomorrow. Sloth and indifference sounds almost inviting. I’m an utter failure at both.
The closest I come to this kind of stillness is my first moments of waking from an afternoon nap. As I slowly surface out of the depths of a few minutes of sound sleep, I lie still as a stone, my eyes open but not yet focused, my brain not yet working overtime.
I simply am.
It doesn’t stay simple for long. But it is good to remember the feeling of becoming aware of living and breathing.
I want to use my days well. I want to be worthy. I want to know there is a reason to be here beyond just warning the flies away.
It is absolutely enough to enjoy the glory of it all.
The first surprise: I like it. Whatever happens now, some things that used to terrify have not:
I didn’t die young, for instance. Or lose my only love. My three children never had to run away from anyone. Don’t tell me this gratitude is complacent. We all approach the edge of the same blackness which for me is silent.
Knowing as much sharpens my delight in January freesia, hot coffee, winter sunlight. So we say
as we lie close on some gentle occasion: every day won from such darkness is a celebration. ~ Elaine Feinstein, “Getting Older” from The Clinic, Memory
It is a privilege to turn 65 today, celebrating the unofficial end of middle age and the beginning of senior citizen discounts and elder status. I’m pleased to make it this far relatively unscathed.
When I was an early grade school kid, I worried about everything: whatever could happen would happen – in my imagination. My parents would perish in an accident while I was at school. My dog would get lost and never come home. I would get sick with a dread disease that only afflicts one in a million children, but I would be that one.
The worries went on and on, often keeping me awake in the night and certainly ensuring that I had stomach aches every morning so my mother would keep me home from school where life felt safer. Our pediatrician, who saw me much more regularly than was actually necessary, would look at me over his glasses with a gentle penetrating gaze, put his hands on my shoulders as I squirmed about on the noisy paper on his exam table, and tell me for the umpteenth time I was 110% healthy so there was nothing I needed to worry about. I now try to instill this confidence in my own patients, thanks to that good man.
But I knew I needed to worry; somehow the worry was a talisman that kept the awful darkness of bad stuff away, things like nuclear bombs and polio outbreaks and earthquakes. That is a heavy load for a little kid to carry, making sure everything stays right with the universe. None of it ever happened in my sheltered little life so I must have been doing something right!
Thankfully, by the time I turned nine, I finally learned to coexist with the inherent risks of daily life, as I realized I, in fact, wasn’t in control of the universe. We lived okay through a 6.3 earthquake. We lived through a 114 mph windstorm that took out the power for a week. We lived through my grandpa dying. Later on I lived through some hard stuff that is painful to even recall so I’d rather not.
Growing older means realizing that bad stuff will happen, and it is usually survivable yet the reality is: life on earth itself isn’t survivable. I’ve seen and experienced plenty of traumatic things over 65 years, and have seen how heroic people can be in the worst possible situations. I’ve even been a bit heroic when I needed to be. But I’ve learned my confidence can’t be in myself or anyone else, and rests in Someone who really is in charge of the universe and who knows all that was, is and will be.
Oh, I still worry. It is hard to stop when it is deeply engrained in my DNA, having descended from a long line of worriers. My children are not grateful for that genetic gift to them. I’m sure my grandchildren won’t thank me either.
Yet, every day I snatch back from that darkness is reason for celebration, and today is no different.
Nearly 24,000 days under my belt of celebrating being here. Hoping for more gentle occasions like this one.
When the soft cushion of sunset lingers with residual stains of dappled cobbler clouds predicting the sweetness of a next day’s dawn, I’m reminded to “remember this, this moment, this feeling”~
I realize that it will be lost, slipping away from me in mere moments, a sacramental fading away of time. I can barely remember the sweetness of its taste, so what’s left is the stain of its loss.
Balancing as best I can on life’s cobbled path, stumbling and tripping over rough unforgiving spots, I ponder the messy sweetness of today’s helping of soulful shortcake, treasure it up, stains and all, knowing I could never miss it if I hadn’t been allowed a taste and savored it to begin with.
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another, in summer, and the mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either knows enough already or knows enough to be perfectly content not knowing. Song being born of quest he knows this: he must turn silent were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly unanswered. At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver “Daisies”
I spend much of my time acknowledging I don’t know what I wish I knew. Aging means becoming content with the mystery and ceasing to strive so much for what is not yet illuminated, but will soon be.
I don’t fight my dark ignorance like I used to — no longer cry out in frustration about what I don’t understand and stomp angrily through each bewildering day.
Instead I am grateful for what insight is given freely and willingly, what is plainly illuminated, to be touched without being picked and destroyed.
I realize, if only I open up just enough to the Sun, it is my own heart that is alit and ripening. That is how heaven must be and I remain content to stay planted where I am until I’m picked.
My husband and I met in the late 70’s while we were both in graduate school in Seattle, living over 100 miles away from our grandparents’ farms farther north in Washington. We lived farther still from my grandparents’ wheat farm in Eastern Washington and his grandparents’ hog farm in Minnesota. One of our first conversations together, the one that told me I needed to get to know this man better, was about wanting to move back to work on the land. We were both descended from peasant immigrants from the British Isles, Holland and Germany – farming was in our DNA, the land remained under our fingernails even as we sat for endless hours studying in law school and medical school classes.
When we married and moved north after buying a small farm, we continued to work full time at desks in town. We’ve never had to depend on this farm for our livelihood, but we have fed our family from the land, bred and raised livestock, and harvested and preserved from a large garden and orchard. It has been a good balance thanks to career opportunities made possible by our education, something our grandparents would have marveled was even possible.
Like our grandparents, we watch in wonder at what the Creator brings to the rhythm of the land each day – the light of the dawn over the fields, the activity of the wild birds and animals in the woods, the life cycles of the farm critters we care for, the glow of the evening sun as night enfolds us. We are blessed by the land’s generosity when it is well cared for.
Now forty years after that first conversation together about returning to farming, my husband and I hope to never leave the land. It brought us together, fed our family, remains imbedded under our fingernails and in our DNA. Each in our own time, we will settle even deeper.
Thank you to retired RN and poet Lois Parker Edstrom for this exquisite poem about living and dying on the land. It has been my privilege to meet her and her husband and welcome them to our farm. Your words have brought me many blessings!
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore
I remember well the feeling of restlessness, having an itch that couldn’t be reached, feeling too rooted and uneasy staying in one place for long, especially if that place was my hometown. I knew I must be destined for greater things, grander plans and extraordinary destinations. There exists in most human beings an inborn compulsion to wander far beyond one’s own threshold, venturing out into unfamiliar and sometimes hostile surroundings simply because one can. It is the prerogative of the young to explore, loosen anchor and pull up stakes and simply go. Most cannot articulate why but simply feel something akin to a siren call.
And so at twenty I heard and I went, considerably aging my parents in the process and not much caring that I did. To their credit, they never told me no, never questioned my judgment, and never inflicted guilt when I returned home after the adventure went sour.
I had gone on a personal quest to the other side of the world and had come home empty. But home itself was not empty nor had it ever been and has not been since.
There is a Dorothy-esque feeling in returning home from a land of wonders and horrors, to realize there is no place like home. There was no way to know until I went away, searching, then coming home empty-handed, to understand home was right inside my heart the whole time. There was no leaving after all, not really.
So I’m here to stay–there is no greater, grander or more extraordinary than right here. Even now when I board a plane for a far off place, I know I’ll be back as this is where the search ends and the lost found.
At almost 65, my head now rests easy on the pillow.
I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world. — Mary Oliver from “Lead” from New and Selected Poems
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care, there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode, immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking, particularly in this day and age of “in the moment” tragedy played out real-time in the palm of our hand and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes it worse. It teaches one to think catastrophically. That is what I do for a living, to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all must do at times~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — He says (and thus we are comforted)